Astonishment hit me when i stepped out of the railway station(not the Howrah station, i'm talking about the one in the city proper). It was DIRTY. I still hold the city to be untidy. Gutters opened almost everywhere. The extent of poverity is so high that people live on the roads. Quite happily at that. Deaths, births, everything happens by the roadside. I still remember this scene very vividly; an old man ws washing his dhoti in the waters of the gutter.
The population is so huge, that nothing is done to improve the living conditions. With influx from across the border worsening the situation.
We hired taxis, and went to our hotels. There was some problem with the rooms that we had booked. So we scanned a few hotels, before we zeroed on one. Were we relieved!
Fortunately we found an uDupi restaurant, which served south indian dishes in their original style. We licked our plates clean, much to the amusement of the owner. Especially, when an uncle of mine served us sambar straight from the bucket which held all the sambar in that place. I guess, we finished all the sambar that was prepared. The boy who waited on us got scared!
On our first day, we visited a kali temple(i'm not sure about it's location). It was so shabby that i refused to step inside it, despite the stern face that my mother exhibited. That was the first time that i saw pundits pestering visitors to hire the former to perform pujas. The temple was actually closed, but these pundits offered to pray fto the door which shut the garbhagriha. I was bowled out!
The Birla Mandir, Belur Mutt were the other places of worhip that we visited. If i'm not wrong, we saw another place, but i cannot recollect at the moment. The latter lies on the shore of the Hooghly. Needless to say, the way to the riverside was filthy. I stood aside while mother and M worshipped.
The Victoria Memorial is a beautiful edifice. Built using white marble, during the colonial rule, it stands out surrounded by a green lawn. It houses artefacts, letters etc that we used by the british. Another site that i enjoyed was the Museum(the one in the middle fo the city, if i'm not mistaken, Kolkata has a musuem dedicated to science on the outskirts).
Of all the things that were on display, i remember the collection of stamps very well. Perhaps, that was one of the few things that we really observed. The rest of it was a hurried one. When we stepped out of the museum, we gobbled guavas, as we were hungry.
All of us were taken to saree shops, and the ladies bought bengali cotton sarees. Mother was bent on it. The saree that was bought there, is in perfect condition even now. She treasures it, i know.
Before we left, father and me went to a sweetmeat shop and bought a few kilograms of sandesh. The entire lot was over within a blink. Talk about bengali sweets, and eating them in Kolkata. It was fabulous.
Not to forget, the rides in the local trams, which proceeds at a snail's pace; the first-ever metro in the country, which whizes past you; and the seemingly-measly buses.
It was later(or is it before, i'm unsure) that i read 'The City Of Joy' by Dominique Lapierre. An eye-opener, indeed. To read the book and to pay a visit to Kolkotha. I was saddenned by the living conditions. Specially with the 'human horses' there. Frail men pulling tongas, which sat bulky women.
Overall, it was an experience to be felt. If one wants to witness the effects of the population boom, Kolkata is the place to be in. I so hope that everything develops for the better.